Thursday, January 8, 2009

Customer service? What's that?

Remember way back when the philosophy of any business -- at least any that wanted to stay in business -- was that the customer is always right? Boy oh boy, are those days gone! And sadly, these are exactly the times that call for improved customer service, when every single customer really counts and can potentially make the difference between keeping the doors open and bankruptcy. Wouldn't you think someone would have mentioned that to store managers? Apparently not.

Yesterday I made a trek to a store, which shall remain nameless mainly because this could have happened in any store, and all stores should take note. I had a list, which is rare enough for me. After accumulating all but two things on my list, I headed for check out. There were maybe four lines open, so I got behind a young couple in one of them and waited to begin putting my items on the conveyor.

As the clerk finished up with the couple, I started unloading my cart. The clerk turned off her register and announced she was leaving. For about ten seconds I just stared at her, then announced that I was leaving, too, and walked out leaving probably $50-75 worth of merchandise sitting there...some on the conveyor belt, some in the cart.

Now that's not a huge sale. It may not hurt their bottom line. But it also will cost employee time to restock all those items. And, the part the manager may never know about is that I am now planning to sell my stock in that particular company, because I have had one too many similar experiences in that exact same store. Ironically just the day before I had told my broker not to sell, despite their recommendation. Today, I've changed my mind. That's why customer service to each and every person who walks through the door is critical. The clerk and manager can't possibly know the ripple effect that one careless action may have.

It's not that I'll sell my stock and the next person might not own stock. That next customer may have friends who shop there and will spread the word about how they were treated. Pretty soon not just one, but dozens of people stop coming. And management at the national level will start wondering why same store sales are declining in that location. In these tough economic times, there's not a store of any kind that can afford to lose even one customer, especially one who spends as much as I do there over the course of a year.

So, take heed. As a customer, don't just grin and bear it when service is rude or non-existent. Take your business elsewhere. There are plenty of other places to buy almost everything, places where the managers and clerks know that without you their jobs are on the line, places where you will be treated with courtesy and respect.

Managers, you need to take heed as well. Corporate culture starts with you. If you insist on good customer service, that message will filter down and be carried out. Jobs these days are too scarce and good people who need them too plentiful to tolerate anything less than outstanding treatment of every customer who walks in the door.

My very favorite customer service story happened years ago to a friend of mine who was shopping for shoes at Nordstrom. I'd been waiting for her in the mall and decided to wander inside, where I found her walking around in the shoe department while frantic employees hunted for her shoe. She'd taken it off to try on a sample shoe and some zealous employee had dutifully picked it up and taken it . . . somewhere. It couldn't be found. The manager arrived in the midst of the hunt, was told the situation, and said without hesitation, "Give her a pair of shoes." Now that is good customer service. Nordstrom is known for it. Every other store should be as well. As a postscript to that story, my friend's shoe was finally found later that night and returned the next day. She got to keep the new shoes!

Sherryl Woods

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Blogger MC said...

I once took a customer service training, and in it I learned that an unhappy customer will usually tell about eight people about a bad experience, while a happy customer will tell only two. Now, this was in the days before blogs, so obviously this isn't as accurate (I assume you have more than eight readers!), but it's something to think about!

January 8, 2009 5:51 AM  
Blogger Sherryl said...

MC, that's a great statistic and yet another reminder about the importance of good customer service. And you're right, these days a whole lot more people learn about these incidents from blogs and places like and Facebook.

And as a further note, I did sell my stock yesterday morning...and told the broker exactly why.

January 9, 2009 5:09 AM  
Blogger still karibear said...

One of the advantages to living in a small town is that everyone knows everyone else, so customer service is different - the clerks and managers really do pay attention and are helpful. One of the grocery store managers even provided transportation for some of the customers. They would normally deliver a phoned in order for an extra 5.00, but if a person was actually there and did their own picking and choosing, he would deliver them and their groceries for free. Sadly, he died unexpectedly a few months ago, and I don’t know what the new manager is doing. But even the ‘big’ chain store has excellent customer service - every store where anyone actually has to load a cart has someone who will take all the purchases to the car.

On the other hand, any larger area I’ve been in, one had to fend for themselves, up to and including bagging their own groceries.

January 10, 2009 9:34 AM  
Blogger Sherryl said...

Boy, do I agree about service in a small town generally being better and more caring! And when I had my bookstore in a small town, I made it a point to do special orders, gift wrapping or anything else that might encourage customers to spend their money with me, rather than going to "town." I had a lot of customers from northern Virginia who would order books from me because of the fast, easy service. And if they couldn't get back down to pick them up, I shipped the books to them. It doesn't take that much time or energy to offer these extras and customers do remember.

January 11, 2009 4:40 AM  
Blogger daisiescan said...

As a manager of a hopefully growing company, I really agree with your customer service therory.... I want my customers to leave with a great experience at our store... Eg.. I went to a shoe store and wow it was great service, above and beyond I also did call the manager to let them know. I think that if more people called about the good experiences we have at stores it might just make a difference that people notice that your doing a good job instead of always recieving the bad calls about what you can't do right...

February 4, 2009 12:23 PM  

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